General Estate – Chris Rollason, Deputy Park Manager

As the nights draw in and temperatures cool we can reflect on what has been an exceptionally hot and dry summer. Unprecedented high temperatures and lack of rainfall has certainly been a cause for concern, not least due to the impact on livestock and wildlife as well as the significant increase in the risk of fire, particularly in rural areas. Sadly the impacts of climate change are already becoming more apparent and we need to ensure we do all we can to mitigate this impact. Despite the exceptional weather it has been another extremely busy year on the Rural Estate with a few key highlights to mention:

Arable Reversion: As more Trust land enters into our Share Farming partnership we are pleased to say that over 22 hectares of arable land off Station Road in Ailsworth has been converted to a wildlife friendly herbal ley and has already started to be grazed by sheep. Over 4,500m of new fencing has been installed, a water connection has been established and pipework has been laid to supply the new troughs that will water the livestock. The herb, legume and wildflower rich grassland will now benefit a wide range of wildlife while also providing excellent grazing for livestock.

Green Hay Strewing: In July members of the Park Management Team were joined by staff from the wider Trust team and volunteers to do some green hay strewing on the Rural Estate. Green hay strewing is a tried and tested method for enhancing the botanical diversity of species poor grassland. It involves taking freshly cut ‘green hay’ from a species rich donor site and then strewing (spreading) it onto a suitable receptor site. Once the hay has been spread it is left for a few days so that the seed within it can fall onto the receptor site. Once the seed has dropped the remaining hay is then removed and can be used for animal feed over winter. Hopefully then over time and with correct management there should be an increase in the species diversity on the receptor site as the seed from the donor site establishes.

Wetland Restoration: In the summer the RSPB’s rotary ditching machine was back at Nene Park to create some shallow ditches and scrapes on the flood meadows at Sutton and Water Newton. By creating low lying, wet features across the floodplain meadows near Sutton, we have been aiming to provide increased feeding habitat for a variety of wetland species such as wading birds and wildfowl. These newly created channels also provide a way for water to easily percolate across the meadow, allowing even more areas to sit wetter throughout autumn, winter and even into early spring. The intention is to provide the right conditions for wetland flora and fauna to colonise and spread.

With some of the wet weather we have received recently and a rise in water levels we are pleased to say that the newly created channels at Sutton have started to hold water and are already beginning to provide valuable feeding habitat for some wetland species such as Snipe. We hope that as we get more rain, water levels will continue to rise even further, making the wider meadow complex sit wetter. We will continue to monitor the progress of this recent project at Sutton flood meadows, but are hopeful that it will have a hugely positive impact on biodiversity over time.

Woodlands – Kevin Finn, Head Groundsperson

After a 5 year break I am pleased to say that I am now back working at Woodlands sports pitches. The only difference is this time I am employed by Nene Park Trust instead of Peal Assurance. I am back doing the job I enjoy and am very excited about future developments on the site.

Due to the lack of rainfall it has been a difficult summer at Woodlands and it’s been a real challenge to keep the pitches in good condition. I am pleased to say that despite this, cricket and football continued throughout the summer and the pitches have recovered pretty well considering. I will continue to maintain the pitches throughout the winter season and am looking to continue to improve them further ready for the summer season.

Share Farming – Craig and Ryan Baxter, Share Farming Partners

Autumn is a busy time – most notably as the rams re-join the ewes to pave the way for spring lambing, symbolic of the very start of another year in the farming calendar. This year’s lambs were weaned from the ewes over summer, and with that we must re-assess the flock and ensure that we have fit and healthy ewes ready to breed again.

This year has been tough for the sheep and cattle – grassland is their dining table and there was a notable absence of anything green over the summer. Much of our work this year has centred around supplementary feeding of the animals with haylage and hay from the previous year, and the hot weather necessitated some very early starts to the day’s shepherding (4:30am!), avoiding bothering the sheep and cattle during the hottest part of the day. With a little TLC, the sheep do look fit and ready for another year.

The first year of calving Red Devon cattle out on the Rural Estate has gone well. They have proven their worth as docile, easy calving animals that work well in conservation and grass-based systems. In addition to that and whilst we may be bias, they really are beautiful animals which are a pleasure to look at each day and see mothering their young.

Aside from the day to day, we have been planning for and effecting further expansion of our farming reach across Nene Park’s rural estate, and with that more sheep have joined the flock and we have further expanded the herd of Ruby Red Devon cattle, which now runs to 50 cows.

In spite of a tough farming year to date, there is lots to look forward to and we can of course rest assured that in farming, no two years will ever be the same.